Friday, August 12, 2011

Hate Reading?

By Russel D McLean

Its big news for many people that there’s a Facebook page called “I hate reading”. They are not in fact referring to the town (although I’m sure Reading has many lovely features and is in itself undeserving of such scorn; I’ve never been there so I couldn’t tell you one way or the rather), but rather to the act of translating words on a page (or on a screen) into some sensible form of communication. Which is ironic given that Facebook has an awful lot of text in the form of updates (many of which are of course illegible, usually from the people who sign up to such pages) and so forth.

Of course this news has shocked so many in the publishing industry confirming once again that most of us live in a bubble. Ask any non-bestselling writer who’s done one of those trial-by-fire daytime book signings, or even any bookseller on the front line, and they will tell you that every day people go into bookshops simply to proclaim how much they hate reading or how much books are a waste of time. They do this with a strange degree of pride, wearing the hate or at the very least the disinterest like a medal of honour. It has always happened. It will continue to happen. Because much of the time these people are unclear what reading is about.

There are many reasons for this, and much of that has to do with the culture of reading in the first place. When we tell people that reading is good they ask, why? The first and most common response is one of “self improvement”, as though reading makes us somehow “better”. People quote statistics about how people who are somehow smarter or more inclined to make it in life.
And of course this makes not a jot of difference to those who “hate reading” because ten to one* it was precisely this attitude that made them “hate reading” in the first place. After all it’s the one you hear constantly in school, which is probably the place where you first realised you “hate reading” due to being presented with inappropriate texts in inappropriate contexts**, and so why is hearing it now going to make any difference?

There are other things too. Cliches like “the book is always better than the film,” that again can make people feel alienated*** and even a little stupid that the only reaction they have left is one that involves lashing out.

And let’s not start on the often pompous and self-involved “coverage” that books get on TV. If I see one more celeb fawning over a supposed “classic” and talking about how it improved them I might scream. Let them be honest. Let them say, “Actually, I rather enjoy curling up with a good bonkbuster because goddamn the story’s great and the sex gets me a little steamy” or even something as simple and enthusiastic as Ali Karim’s far-too-brief appearance on World Book Night saying how much he enjoyed the baddies getting biffed.

There are always going to be people who for one reason or another claim to “hate” books. Now I believe that we can still find them the right book and the right way into reading, but making them feel dumb or excluded – as we often do, even unintentionally – is not the way to do it.
Look, I’m not offering answers here. Just some random thoughts, many slightly disconnected. And I’m also saying that a facebook page dedicated to “hating reading” is a natural development. The same as there’s probably an “I hate custard” page out there or something similiarly idiotic****. I think it’s a sad thing, of course, when people claim to hate reading. But I’m not living in a bubble and I’m not surprised by it.

Maybe one day the right book will bring them back into the fold. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. As one person pointed out, quite rationally, chances are if you added up all the fans of thriller titles alone in the world, they would overwhelmingly outnumber the relative minority (even if it does seem large number when glanced at) who have signed up to this facebook page.

And besides, when was the last time you even checked what Facebook pages you’d been signed up to just because someone you knew invited you?

(and speaking of Facebook, here’s a blatant plug - - go like the spanky Russel D McLean fanpage and prove to the world that you really do like reading!)

*statistic taken from the office of I Needed To Make Up A Statistic So I Nicked A Cliché

**I was lucky in that I most had pretty inspiring English teachers who encouraged me to read
what I enjoy.

***I’ve mentioned this in previous blog posts I’m sure that often the film is just “different” and
that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

****I’m already late on this and don’t have the time to do the research.


angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

This post makes me want to laugh and cry simultaneously. Reading is a beautiful town and surely there are voracious readers there. I hate reading books that I don't like and have thrown some across the room but there are so many books. I wonder how many of those fans of the FB page you mention read comics or graphic novels? This must be a development with the spread of video games. Do any of these people realize that writers create video games?

In France graphic novels or Bande Dessine are HUGE. My local library is specialized in them. There is a museum of Bande Dessine and the Louvre has dedicated exhibitions to them.

Dana King said...

I'm fortunate in that I don't know anyone who is proud to hate reading. (As a wanna-be writer, I guess that makes sense. We don't hang in the same circles.) If confronted with one, I might turn the tables on him and ask why he hates it. More than likely, he was turned off by what he was required to read in school, which too often meets your definition of "it's good for you," and, worse, is often over a high schooler's head.

To me, I don't care if someone likes to read comic books or the New Yorker; they're reading. And if they refuse to read, Yogi Berra's line about baseball attendance will hold true (paraphrasing, of course): People don't want to read, how you gonna stop them?

Al Tucher said...

Interesting. I have worked in public libraries for thirty years, and I can't recall anyone ever making a special visit to proclaim a hatred of reading. We do offer services for people who don't read, such as computer access and video loans. We're also a place to be without spending money, but Barnes and Noble offers that as well these days. Is there some more fundamental difference between libraries and bookstores?

Diana said...

To be honest, if my only exposure to books had been what I was required to read for high school, then I would probably hate reading too. Fortunately, I grew up in a house full of books and a mother who read to me when I was a small child. So, I learned to love to read.

But what I learned from the high school reading list is that books labeled "classic" or "literature" were probably deadly dull to read. (There are exceptions.) And so when someone tells me that they hate to read, I ask them what kind of movies they like to watch, then point out the bestselling authors of books which are similar, and suggest that they try one of those books. Because reading is fun and with the right book, you can escape into a different world for awhile and come back refreshed.